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A Beacon Of Light… Why Priests Are Essential

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A Beacon Of Light…
Why Priests Are Essential

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + Do you know how many priests there are in the entire world? According to the Vatican, in 2018 there were 414,065 active priests in the world. This was a decrease of 2,675 from the previous year. Do you know how many Catholics there are worldwide? The same Vatican report in 2018 showed the world population of Catholics has increased to a staggering 1,328,993,000. This means that every priest is responsible for an average of 14,638 Catholics. This is an astonishing and daunting number! Is it even possible?
    The Catholic priest is essential for assisting us in living our faith. It is the priest who acts, In Persona Christi, or in the person of Christ. It is the priest who, through Sacred Ordination and Consecration with Chrism, is able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, by which, the living Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus is offered as food for our journey of faith.
    It is the priest who opens the doorway in the Sacrament of Baptism, making us sons and daughters in Christ. It is the priest who is the instrument of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as our sins are forgiven. It is the priest who witnesses and affirms the actions of a couple in the Sacrament of Marriage. And it is the priest who arrives at our bedside in the moments before our death to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum, preparing us to meet the Lord. Besides all of this, the priest also counsels the distraught, offers marriage counseling, saves the person contemplating suicide, rushes to the scene of accidents, fires, and other disasters, and the priest is at times just the silent presence needed in times of difficulty.
    Each day as I talk to my brother priests, there seems to be a growing misunderstanding that all we do is celebrate Mass and then the day is over. This is far from the truth, and it is quite the contrary! Priests are being asked to take on more and more responsibilities. Instead of focusing on the spiritual needs of people’s lives, priests often find themselves having to deal with daily issues that arise. These may include: dealing with employee disputes, trying to find a plumber to fix that overflowing toilet, fixing the crumbling roof on either the church building or the rectory and even in some places, cutting the grass. Not that these things are beneath or beyond the priest’s capabilities, no, certainly not! Unfortunately, in today’s struggling world, the priest is needed to guide the faithful back to the Lord, not to mop up the water of the overflowing toilet.
    So often we hear people ask the question: What does a priest do? The question that should be asked is: Who the priest is? It is so easy to look at a priest from a purely functionary point of view. When actually, we should look at the priest from a missionary point of view. During my seminary days, our rector would always challenge us to be missionaries instead of functionaries.
    The problem today, however, is that the list of functionary responsibilities seems to outweigh the missionary aspect of the priestly ministry. In the homily preached at my First Mass of Thanksgiving, the homilist reminded the faithful of the importance the priest plays in our daily lives. We are not just mere “middlemen of the Lord,” but we are instruments of Divine Grace and dispensers of the grace God freely wills upon mankind. The priest is imperative to our lives of faith because without the priest we have no Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, we have no Church.
    As Vatican II reminds us in the document Sacrosanctum Concilium, “the Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Christian life.” If we lose the priest, we lose the Eucharist, thus denying ourselves of the very Church Christ founded to assist us on the journey to Heaven.
    From the very beginning of his Pontificate, St. John Paul II had a unique gift of recognizing the struggles of priests. In order to combat this, John Paul II set out to build a special bond with the world’s priests. This bond prompted him to write a yearly letter to priests. And what better way than to use Holy Thursday, the day of the Institution of the Priesthood, to write to the world’s priests? From the first Easter of the beginning of his pontificate in 1978, to its end upon his death in 2005, there are twenty-five years of encouraging letters in support of brother priests. St. John Paul II recognized himself as a priest first and as Bishop of Rome second.
    For him the priesthood was at the heart of who he was. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were Popes who supported priests. Sadly, this tradition has fallen by the wayside.
    This is where, you the faithful people of God, can be of great assistance to your priests. How can you assist them? This begins first by being present to them. Priests are not priests for themselves, they are ordained for the faithful.

Express Your Thanks

I have come up with a few ways in which we can help make the lives of our priests better.
First and foremost, we need to pray for them. With the amount of stress and responsibility they are under, they need to know the faithful are praying for them. There is no act of kindness more appreciated than knowing there is someone praying for you.
Second, invite the priest over for dinner or cook him a meal. Today most priests often find themselves living alone in a rectory and sometimes it’s hard to always have the energy to cook. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the doorbell ring and Mrs. Smith has thought of you by bringing you a little supper. Not only is that good for you, but think of the blessing it is for Mrs. Smith.
Third, write him a note expressing your thanks for all he has done. We all like to be recognized for the good we do, but unfortunately, people seem to only offer priests their complaints and often ridicule them for something they didn’t like. We need to be more supportive and more accepting of our priests.
Fourth, save the drama for your mamma! Don’t gossip or talk about priests behind their backs. They work hard to do what they can in helping us get to Heaven. Are they perfect? Absolutely not! They are people who also fail in being charitable to their neighbor just as we all do.
Lastly, build a relationship with your priest! Maybe he is shy or seems unapproachable. Sometimes we judge a person on the outside and forget to see the person on the inside. Like the old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a priest before you get to know him. He just might surprise you, and who knows, he may be the one whom the Lord has chosen to assist you on your journey to eternity.
In closing this week, we invoke the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux and offer the prayer she prayed daily for all priests:

O Jesus, eternal Priest,
keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands,
which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips,
daily purpled with your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts,
sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround them and
shield them from the world’s contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit and
may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in Heaven their beautiful and
everlasting crown.
Amen.

END POEM

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